Juniata Park: First-Year Principal Goes The Extra Mile To Help Students Succeed

Emily Mary Trunfio working in her office at the One Bright Ray Community School.

Emily Mary Trunfio, principal of One Bright Ray Community High School, doesn’t want to just help kids who struggle academically get a high school diploma. She wants to help them achieve success after they leave school as well.

The school helps at-risk kids who are behind academically to catch up and get that ever-important diploma. Trunfio, who took over as principal a year ago, is now putting in place services to help her students get to college and beyond.


Since becoming principal, you have pushed for this school to start using their resources to help the students think about their next step after they leave One Bright Ray. How is that going?
Recently, we have been really pushing students to think about the post-secondary aspect. We are helping our students get into programs or schools after they leave us. They all know who the post-secondary counselor is, they know they need to fill out college applications, they know the [financial aid] deadline is coming up and they even know what kind of SAT scores they need to get into where they want to go. We have really started to push the post-secondary and I am really proud of where it is at now.

How have you changed the way you teach the curriculum?
You won’t see a lot of tests taking place. It is all more real-life learning than out of a textbook. For example, in one of our chemistry classes, our kids are examining the water problem in Flint, [Michigan], and looking at how to solve that was their final project.

What is the difference between One Bright Ray Community High School and other high schools?
Most of our kids have gone to a bunch of different schools so they have a lot of credits from different areas. We only give our kids the classes they need in order to fill in those gaps from their past schools. That’s why the kids are here. That traditional school setting didn’t work for them. It’s a completely different conversation when you are showing them how they can use all the curriculum in their real life. Making it relatable to them and how they can use it in their everyday lives helps them understand it better and most importantly, buy in to what they are learning.

How has the school adapted to the new age of technology?
With everyone today, you can look up anything on your phone. Teaching the skill of how to take in the information and process it and use it in another way is something that we try to focus on. We don’t need them to memorize facts they can, now, always look those facts up. We want our students to understand the information coming back to them and be able to use that with whatever they choose to be in life.

What kind of support do you offer the students here?
We have two emotional support members, and we have a school counselor who will deal with any emotional issues and talk to the students to have that support system. We have a school social worker and also a post-secondary counselor that specifically deals with things like college applications, trade school applications and things like that to really try to figure out what the next step is. We also have a daycare in this building. We are the only campus that has a daycare, so when a student enrolls, and they have a child, they are given the option to come here. So that’s just another way we can remove any barriers that students have from getting a high school diploma.

How have you extended all the support the school offers to the community?
Any student that has ever graduated from a One Bright Ray school that needs any support is always welcome to come back. As well as anyone in the community that needs that help. Our post-secondary counselor is always available to help out. We always tell our kids come back no matter how long it’s been. If they graduated three, four years ago, we’re still here to help them if they decide they still want to seek education after high school.

Working with these at-risk kids can be tough sometimes, what makes you continue to come to work every day?
I was a little nervous at first, because I wasn’t really sure what I was walking into. But as soon as you start working here, and working with the kids, it’s so rewarding to see kids that may not have been successful at other programs find success with us and success for themselves. When you see that, you see that transition, it’s so worth it.

-Text and images by Lucas Medeiros.

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